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What it’s like to Travel as a Woman
In the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

Updated March 2020, What it was like to Travel as a Solo Woman in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan was originally written in September 2017

Most everyone was questioning my mental stability when I said I was going to visit Afghanistan. Even after I’ve returned unscathed (aside from the 8 hour Afghan colon cleanse, but that’s another story) people are still concerned over my faculties. And others will continue to think I’ve absolutely lost it. And I’m sure I’ll even have to face backlash from a few righteous travel bloggers acting like I’ve committed the worst offense by visiting a country that’s been considered a war zone for decades. You know the ones that have a fit about others visiting war zones, crazy regimes, and countries whose governments have atrocious and well publicized human rights violations. All the while their high-and-mighty-blogger-asses visit places pulling some pretty bad moves (even violating human rights), just with rulers who are much better at sweeping it under the rug and hiding it (usually for pay) from the international community.

In September 2017 I turned up in Eshkashim, Afghanistan as a solo female traveler with nothing planned, no fixer or guide arranged, but an idea of what I wanted to do. Within minutes of crossing the border, everything was settled. I’d found a guide and was on my way to a guesthouse to begin arranging all the Wakhan permits with Malang (my guide) who I would definitely recommend to anyone headed to the Wakhan.

Afghanistan, Afghan Wakhan, Wakhan, Badakhshan
Malang and I

Yes, I am fully aware Afghanistan, in general, is probably one of the hardest countries in the world to be a woman. However, the Wakhan Corridor is a little different for women in comparison to much of the rest of the country. And while I’m on this, let’s start giving the women of Afghanistan some respect for what they do and deal with. They have hard lives, but I don’t think enough people realize how amazing, resilient and tough these women are. When in parts of the country you have women and girls risking their lives on the daily for something so humanly basic as education, you know you have a country full of chadri and hijab clad badasses.

Disclaimer: Most every country on Allah’s green Earth recommend against all travel to Afghanistan because of the decades the country has spent racked with war and let’s not forget those assholes, the Taliban. The Wakhan Corridor has remained pretty safe throughout the years, however, anything could change at any time. Do your homework. Be sure you can handle this. Afghanistan isn’t a place to go for the notoriety of saying you’ve been. If you chose to go, you are going at your own risk.

Read: Tajikistan-Afghanistan Border Crossing Report At Ishakashim

Afghanistan, solo woman in Afghanistan, Wakhan corridoR, Qazideh, Afghan Wakhan

So What Was It Like To Travel As A Woman In The Wakhan Corridor?

Travling as a solo female in the Wakhan was easy, amazing, eye-opening and mostly hassle-free. However, be prepared to rough it. This is an extremely remote chunk of Afghanistan, after all. Running water, sewer lines, hygienic standards, and central heating DO NOT exist yet here.

Most The Inhabitants Of The Wakhan Practice Ismailism

The Ismailis are a Shia sect that can be found in the Tajik Wakhan and Afghan Wakhan as well as into the Hunza Valley in Pakistan and of course scattered worldwide. In the grand view of Islam, Ismailism is pretty liberal. It’s not uncommon to see women without the headscarf on the Tajik side of the Wakhan, with that said, generally all women and teenage girls you will see in the Afghan Wakhan will be wearing a headscarf as this area is far more cut off from the world than its Tajik counterpart and in general live more traditionally. I’m not going to delve too far into what Ismailism is, because you can google that yourself. But I will say that women are held in pretty high regard in their society, compared to other sects of the religion. Wearing the headscarf is optional.

What Did I Wear?

Guess what? I DID NOT have to wear a burqa, as most think when I say I went to the Wakhan region of Afghanistan.bI still chose to go the conservative, modest route. My outfit included a black pair of loose fitting pants, a grey long sleeve shirt, and a headscarf. For cold temps (which you will almost certainly encounter in the mountains) I had a hooded sweatshirt and a rain jacket. This was the perfect outfit. Not too hot for the valleys and down below, could layer up for colder temps up higher and conservative enough to blend in.

Afghanistan, solo woman in Afghanistan, Wakhan Corridor

Don’t be shocked on arrival in Afghan Eshkashim to see some women wearing the famed blue chardi (burqa). Eshkashim is not quite yet into the Wakhan Corridor. So you will see some women taking care of business in town wearing just a headscarf as well as others fully covered in chadri. As you delve further into the Wakhan the chadri will become nonexistent.

Tip: didn’t pack something clothing wise you may use/want while here, like a long enough top or a headscarf? Head to the bazaar in Eshkashim. You can pick up cheap clothing here easily.

Expect Some Stares

No, not in a let’s-make-her-feel-uncomfortable kind of way. More out of curiosity kinda way. On any given year, the Wakhan, Afghanistan’s hoppin tourist hot spot will usually see no more than 100 foreign tourists. Being a tourist there makes you a spectacle. Being a woman makes you, even more of a rarity. A solo woman? You may as well be a unicorn.

See the Afghan Wakhan in photos

Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to take many selfies with people you meet along the way.

Hey girl, Heeeeeeey

JK. I never was catcalled once I arrived into the Afghan Wakhan, what a relief. I’ve traveled a fair amount of the world, the majority of it as a solo female. Catcalling is usually something you just have to deal with, i.e. ignore most the time. But here? None.

Tip: if you do get harassed or catcalled, make a scene. Others won’t tolerate it either.

I Got A View Into The Lives Of Women That Male Travelers Would Ordinarily Never See

Being a girl traveling in Islamic countries really is a treat in this sense. You get to join the women behind the curtains where no man is allowed. By the second day, I lost count of how many times I had been kidnapped by a mob of women and girls to flip off all the layers and talk over bowls of shirchai.

Want to visit the remainder of Afghanistan? Check out my Afghanistan Travel Guide

Yak milking lesson underway. One evening this lovely lady in Aksanktich taught me how to milk a yak. Full disclosure: It was super easy, yaks have tiny teets, and we both were laughing uncontrollably

Tip: Keep an open mind about the lifestyles here. I know some westerners that would find the lives here of women to still be pretty old school. Understanding goes a long way.

And Then Expect To Be The Third Gender

Writing ‘third gender‘ makes me laugh thinking of the hoopla going on in the United States over the whole public bathroom debacle.

Now there isn’t quite the extent of gender segregation here as you can expect to see in other parts of Afghanistan and even the greater Islamic world, however, you’re still viewed almost as if you were another gender. Immune from being banned from things that women ordinarily can’t or wouldn’t do. You’ll likely be invited to partake in activities that women wouldn’t typically be, but also you’ll be invited to take part in women-only events

Afghanistan, Afghan Wakhan, Wakhan, Badakhshan, yurt, Afghan yurt, Wakhi yurt, Aksanktich
Having a shirchai session with the men

On another note: Do still expect to shake hands with men, but wait for them to gesture first. In many Islamic areas of the world, unrelated men and women do not touch. A safe bet is to always put your hand over your heart and slightly bow your head. I found in 99% of cases the men reciprocated and then held their hand out to greet you.

Do Expect To Be Asked About Your Husband & Children

While being a pretty liberal region of Afghanistan, women still live pretty traditional lives and typically will have large families. If you don’t wanna be questioned so much say you’re married with kids whether you are or aren’t. I always replied that I did not yet have kids and that was almost always immediately met with a ‘why not?’ It’s highly unusual for a 30 year old to not have a child here. I found a ‘maybe in a couple of years‘ usually stifled off any further questions regarding reproductive planning.

Tip: Bonus points if you have pictures of your family whether it’s real or fantasy. Wakhis are always delighted to see what your life is and looks like back at home.

People Are Very Honest Here

I, being the scatterbrain I am left my wallet with over $1,000 (yeah, don’t expect to find ATMs) sitting on a chair in the passport control office at the border. I didn’t realize it until probably 10 minutes later as I was saying my goodbyes to new Afghan friends and my guide, Malang. I walked into the office to find the Afghan border guard waiting with my wallet sitting on his desk for me to come back for it. If I did the same at home my wallet would have been emptied in mere seconds.

Don’t Be Surprised If You’re Treated Like Royalty

The Wakhi are known for their hospitality. Even if a family has little in way to offer they will still go above and beyond (and even into debt) to treat a guest extremely well.

Tip: pick up a few supplies at the bazaar in Eshkashim to share with new friends. Even if it’s just a bag of potatoes or a stack of non. I would advise leaving some money when being invited into homes and for meals as giving beyond means is a common occurrence here.

Afghanistan, Badakshan, Badakhshan, Wakhan, Wakhan Corridor, Great Pamir, Afghanistan

Other Helpful Tips

Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations

Outbreaks such as cholera are not unheard of. Hygienic standards are not up to par with western countries and illnesses spread fast here.

Bring any necessary medications with you

Anything you need, bring it. Also worth having is a broad spectrum antibiotic, Imodium (back to the 8 hour Afghan colon cleanse), anti inflammatories, etc. are worth packing.

Pack layering clothing

Even in summer, you can expect near or below freezing temps high in the mountains. During the day and especially down in the valley you can expect pretty warm to hot temperatures.

Expect to get dust everywhere

It is likely the dustiest place I’ve ever visited. Make sure and protect your electronics and bring allergy pills if you’re susceptible to dust born breathing problems.

Plan the first 1-2 days of your Afghan arrival to be spent getting necessary permits

Several passport photos and passport copies are needed for the various bureaucratic hoops that your fixer will likely jump through for you. On day 1 Malang took my passport and got all the copies he needed to begin the process. Day 2 I spent roughly 4 hours sitting in the Eshkashim police station handing over copies of my passport and photos to get my migration card and the handwritten permits to travel further into the Wakhan. I don’t quite understand the process, but it’s just what needs to be done.

There was a meeting in Sultan Eshkashim in August 2017 to begin steps forward to consolidate this process to make travel here easier in hopes to bring in more tourists. As well as agree on lowering prices for services such as guiding, pack animals, and taxis to lure in more visitors. However, as it stands now, trading several passport copies around town and a lengthy visit to the police is the procedure. Plan to pay your guide/fixer $40-50 for this service. Unless of course you speak fluent Dari and wanna give it it a crack yourself, OR you plan on only visiting Sultan Eshkashim and not adventuring further into the Wakhan.

Wakhan Guides I Recommend

Malang Darya is who guided and translated for me. I actually arrived on my own to Afghanistan and randomly met him at Marco Polo Guesthouse and he helped organize my trip for me. He’s professional and knows all the ropes, and is among the first Afghans to summit Noshaq Mountain. He runs his own company called Big Little Pamir Travel made up of 6 guides beside himself. You contact Malang and his team at their new website Wakhan Adventure or shoot him an email at [email protected] or reach him at +93 794766067.

Afghanistan, Afghan Wakhan, Wakhan, Badakhshan

Got Questions About Solo Female Travel In The Wakhan Corridor?

Ask your solo female travel in the Wakhan questions in the comments below!

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16 thoughts on “Female Travel In The Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan”

  1. You’re one brave girl. I will be going to the Wakhan this summer and attempting to arrange a group to cost share with, so I’ve been reading up as much as possible! Thanks for all your informative guides on Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

    1. Oh that’s awesome! You may already know this, but definitely post on the Caravanistan forums about your planned trip and timeframes and see if you can round up some people there, or when you arrive in Khorog make a post on the board at the PECTA office

  2. Nicole,
    Great informative post. I am an Afghan-American living in the US with my wife and kids (5, 3 and 1). Would you recommend us going on this adventure as a family?

    1. Hi Jose,
      What an exciting adventure! The Wakhan is possible with children, however I would make sure and allow plenty enough time for you and your family to acclimate to the altitude, really make sure everyone is drinking plenty of water, and take all the precautions to avoid any stomach bugs and bacterias. If you are planning to do a lot of trekking I think it may be a better trip once the kids are a little older. What exactly do you want to do and see? I think it can definitely be altered to cater to most interests.

  3. Wow, amazing story and photos! I would like to eventually visit the Wakhan Corridor so it great to finally hear of solo woman’s account of the trip as most blogs I have seen on the area are written by men.

    1. Thank you! I think when I visited there weren’t any blogs about the Wakhan written by women who went solo. I had mostly relied on info I’d found in the Lonely Planet, Caravanistan, and Trip Advisor Forums

  4. I was in Khorog in September last year and saw an note for solo traveller looking for others to join her on a trek across the border. Was this you ? If so I’m glad you had such a great experience . This August I’m returning to my motorcycle in Osh and may have a crack at a similar trip. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Hey Will,
      That was probably me! I never had any takers, so I went across on my own, and what a great trip it was. I can’t wait to return there. Sounds like you’re hooked on Tajikistan/Central Asia now? I do hope you make the trip across, but do try to go for at least two weeks so you can get out to Chaqmaqtin Lake and the Kyrgyz nomads, I was short on time by the point in the trip I made it across (didn’t account for the Eid al-Qurban holiday) it left me with not enough time to make the trip out there worthwhile, so I opted for the Great Pamir instead of the Little Pamir. I do plan to return to explore more of the Wakhan and of course more of Afghanistan. Good luck out there! I’ll be back in Central Asia twice this summer, so may cross paths with you possibly.

  5. This is absolutely amazing and I love your stories and vibe! I have a few questions: How long did you have your guide for and where did he meet/drop you off? Did he bring you for the visa? How long was your whole general stan trip for?? Thanks!

    1. Thanks Alyssa!
      So I actually crossed the border with nothing arranged, got across and got a ride to the Marco Polo Lodge in Eshkashim and arranged everything once I was there. Malang, who guided me was there (one of his guides that works for him was meeting a client there) and offered to guide me. I only had 8 days, so he came up with a plan for me. Originally I had wanted a month in the Wakhan, but knew that 2 weeks would be more realistic with my timeframe, and because of border closures for some holidays had to be cut even shorter.

      I did get the visa on my own. I walked to the Afghan consulate in Khorog one morning and walked back out with it about 30 mins later after filling out all the paperwork. I spent a little over 2 months in Central Asia this year, most all of which was in Tajikistan besides going to Afghanistan and then flying out of Kyrgyzstan to leave the region. I spent 2 months in Central Asia in 2016 as well.

  6. Awesome! I was in Ishkashim on the Tajik side in June and really wanted to visit the Whakan valley in Afghanistan. Unfortunately back then the border was closed. Nice to read that it is open again, I definitely want to go back and visit the remote Whakan. Great post and great experience. The people in Central Asia are so super friendly. Keep travelling!

    1. Glad to hear you visited Tajikistan, one of my favorite places in the entire world! I had wanted to go into the Afghan Wakhan really bad when I was in Tajikistan in 2016, but I told myself to wait for things to stabilize more so that I could continue after visiting the Wakhan toward Kabul and see more of the country, but of course going back to Tajikistan in 2017 I said I’d go no matter what as long as the border was open and of course things had gotten worse security wise in Afghanistan, so I figured I should take the opportunity while I had it to at least see the Wakhan. Was a bit worried about the possibility of the border closing once I was in Afghanistan though. Was it a Cholera outbreak that closed it in June? I can’t remember. Anyways, I hope you get the chance to visit the Afghan Wakhan one day, it truly is amazing… and that Central Asian hospitality is alive and well in Afghanistan, I miss it!

  7. Cat (Intrepidista)

    Loved reading your take on the Wakhan Nicki! It makes me a little jealous that I went to Eshkashim later with a boy instead of with you as I think the experience would have been quite different. Based on my particular experience I can back up basically everything you say. The people were welcoming, friendly, curious, safe… And even though I was only in and around Eshkashim for a few days, it is absolutely an experience I will never forget. Thank you for inspiring me to visit!

    1. Hey Cat!
      Wish you could’ve went beyond Eshkashim, but I did see your photo the other day you got with the ladies in blue burqas- I didn’t hang out in Eshkashim and get one of those, so I’m a little jealous ? Trying to go back explore more of the country hopefully in 2018 or 2019 wink, wink, nudge, nudge… come with!

  8. Wow, wow and more wow! Loved hearing a positive article on Afghanistan as unfortunately the media only ever wants to show the war side (don’t get me wrong, that needs to be covered) but this is so refreshing to read about how a female can travel to a war torn country but visit an area that is still safe and welcoming. The pictures that you shared, were amazing and breathtaking! This gives me inspiration to travel there (might not tell the family about that bucket list trip)!

    1. It’s funny you you may not tell your family… I actually didn’t tell anyone I was going except two friends that do some crazy travel ventures like me. People hear Afghanistan and assume it’s a hellhole, and I figured it’d be much better not to worry everyone back home!

      Totally agree that the war needs covered and that’s the media should stop neglecting the good that does happen in the country. The people have been cast as terrorists when actually most everyone is just trying to go about their lives and not to mention they are some of the most welcoming and friendly people on earth!

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